Going with the Flow-State

My mad, crazy fortnight of conventions, seminars, workshops and book launches had finally ended.

After a little bit of rest . . .them much more rest. . .I went through my notes and have started collating them into some sensical set of blog posts. I’m going to go in a bit of reverse order though, and start with the most recent event – a Sam Hawke Special.

Rather than a play by play of the workshop though, I’m going to go over one of the most helpful parts Sam spoke about – Flow State.

The workshop itself was specific to NaNoWriMo however much of the advice was pretty applicable elsewhere – from generating ideas to getting a schedule together, building the character relationships to world-building. But getting into Flow State (essentially a psychological term for being ‘in the zone’) is a technique that is all about maximising the results of a shortened time to write. In a way, its kind of like intervals at the gym – getting a higher effort in a shortened time to get more of an output overall.

Some of you may be well and truly accustomed to flow state, but for me it was something of a revelation – the culmination of many individual bits of advice I had received, but brought together and codified in a meaningful and understandable way.

Pretty close to my actual face when I hit flow state Image: https://meme.xyz

Flow state will change a little for everyone, and like anything, there are some people it just won’t work for. If you’re writing in snatched time, then getting set up might take more time than you actually have, or the elements that help might not be available while in the car at school pick up. But if you have twenty minutes or so, I recommend giving it a shot. My first attempt resulted in 4000k not in one hit, but in several ‘flow state’ efforts in a single day. They weren’t trash words either, but a solid basis for a short story.

But I digress. What is flow state is covered – but how is it achieved, apart from those magical times it just seems to happen? Much of it is advice that is found in bits and pieces, and codifying it to an actual process made it much easier for me.

First and foremost, the task must be something you enjoy. Which, being writers, should be easy. Love writing? Tick. Done.

I have a very particular type of writing I enjoy – definitely not a psychopath though. . .I think. . .Image: https://memegenerator.net

Right. So the next couple elements are also pretty straight forward when it comes to writing, especially during NaNo. A clear goal and immediate (or at least easily accessible) feedback. In this case, that’s wordcount and again NaNo is pretty well suited to this.

It does pose a little more an issue with less tangible goals, and for people who tend towards pantsing (i.e. me) it really does mean setting some kind of immediate planning. Not much, but if you can set even a basic goal like ‘get character out of hole’, then the story itself becomes that immediate feedback. If you can line up all the obstacles, and set a place in the story you want to get to, then that’s enough.

The other part of flow-state is a bit more precise, but its a good element in the sense that it makes for a real easy selection – get some white noise. Not necessarily oceans or TV static, but if music (which is my go-to), then something without words. No distractions is in there too, and for someone who loves music (i.e. me), there have been plenty of occasions that leave me singing an offkey rendition of ‘Hello‘ (metal version of course) rather than writing. It influences the writing too, usually in a good way, but that can just as easily be done with a movie soundtrack or something more of a classical genre.

The last factor we spoke of was one of the most difficult for me. Relating again to goals, and making the challenging, but not causing you to struggle. I’ve always aimed for the beyond reach goals, whether in my career, my personal life, or my writing. Its one of those ‘if you aim high and fall short, better than not aiming for anything at all’ kind of mentalities. But for flow state, that isn’t helpful. For motivation in writing a 120k manuscript? Fantastic. For getting into a flow state for a single session? Less so.

I think the short story side of things really helped though in my most recent attempt. I didn’t have much of an idea, and my challenge was to get the basic structure down. Challenging when I don’t have an idea, but achievable in a session. 4000 words later, I had far more than than.

The last one was not an immediate relation to flow state, but one that in general will help, and I think in general is a good idea; don’t neglect your health. I’m a firm believer that physical and mental health and wellbeing are absolutely related, and hitting flow state will benefit from both. It isn’t as easy as saying ‘look after yourself!’ but I know I’m not alone in letting the stress and self induced anxiety of the word count pressure interfere with a good headspace, or take any motivation for eating well/staying fit.

What this part means to me, is not to let the pressure of reaching flow state (or getting the words down) become counterproductive. Some stress is healthy – it lets us know something is wrong and needs corrective action. But too much gets in the way of the end goal, and that is not what is needed.

Self care is a topic that I see many more qualified people speak on, so I think I’ve probably rambled close to too long on that topic, but I cannot stress how important it is.

Otherwise though, because I can’t think of a natural end to this post, and I love puns, I guess I’ll leave with the summery of getting into flow state; that is, to set up challenging but achievable goals, remove distractions, set up the Mozart, and. . .go with the flow!


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